Salt Koji

It’s fitting to do salt koji, or what people often call shio koji. Shio means salt. It’s typically the most imprecise aspect of making anything with koji. That’s why we recommend using a scale. This is about salt and how it interacts with koji and the five tastes.

Brazil nuts slow roasted in shio koji and Russian black bread spices and seeds

Salt, in whatever form, has an effect on the receptors that line your entire digestive tract. It’s hard to come up with an instance when you wouldn’t want to use shio koji in or on something you are eating.

Like salt, it follows that everyone will have their own preferences and ideas about how much should be used during cooking, how much they should eat, and how much they want in their food.

Regardless of what is attached to a salt – in most cases it’s a chloride ion, as in NaCl or sodium chloride – sodium excites receptors in the human body from the tongue to the belly to the brain. But it can both excite them, or shut them down. Enter both sweet and savory, all natural B vitamin heavy and digestive enzyme rich shio koji.

The Blue Pill. You’ll Get Another Chance.

You take the blue pill the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Morpheus to Neo in The Matrix

Shio koji is koji (usually rice koji) and salt. Remember the container of Cold Mountain koji in the last post on bucket miso? You can use that to make shio koji. Or you can use fresh rice koji you or someone else made, or even brown rice koji.

Exactly the right amount for our one bucket miso. Go ahead. Add the entire thing to the shio koji recipe below. Just add a few tablespoons extra water.

You can also use another type of fresh or dried koji if you prefer, like barley or millet or oat shio koji. We very strongly recommend you start off with white rice koji for many reasons we’ll discuss later. All of our recipes that use shio koji assume this amount of salt regardless of what type of koji you use.

We’ll get into altering the salt content in the future, and like our good friends at Ozuke in Colorado do with their salted plums turn this into something completely different than a traditional version. They also have a selection of outrageously tasty pickles and krauts by the way.

But when we use this shio koji to make miso or a nukazuke bed (a mash used for marinating or pickling vegetables, meats, fish, etc.) or to bake with you will understand why we encourage you to use this recipe.

Overnight shio koji sour dill pickles

Koji is the one. If you have been reading our previous posts closely, we weren’t joking when we said that shio koji could replace salt when making miso, or even become a main ingredient.

With a few change ups that take into account the basic things – scientists call them variables – specific to koji: sodium content, water content, density, what’s up in the hood with the other microbes in the hood, and temperature. We’ll get more into that in the Methods section, later.

Just like most people buy their koji from a company that has been making it for decades or centuries, they have been getting pre-made koji based things through their food networks as well.

This Shio koji is the blue pill. In our script you get to take the red pill later if you want to be part of our occult hutch. But if you like this, be happy.

  • 2 3/4 cups/450 grams koji
  • 1/2 cup/ 150 grams coarse sea salt
  • 2 1/2 cups/ 600 grams/ml water at 140F

The recipe for making shio koji is a ratio: 3 to 1 to 4. Three parts of koji to one part salt by weight. To that you add an equal amount of hot (140F) water as the koji and salt combined.

If you grind the koji in the grain mill container of a Vitamix use very cold koji – otherwise it is very likely to take on an unpleasant potato like odor that doesn’t ever really go away – you will obviously need less koji volume – but not by weight – wise. In this recipe, you would only need 2 1/2 cups, but still 450 grams.

But again, if you have a little extra koji you can just add it in with two or three extra tablespoons of water. That will lower the salt content a little but it won’t matter unless you make more than this quart of shio koji.

Massage the koji and salt together very well before adding your water. Use a glove. Anything with powerful enzymes capable of tenderizing meat – or anything with that much salt – will do a number on your hands. Or your skin. If you have already ground up your koji just stir it very well.

This recipe works as a pretty much anerobic (not much or no oxygen) ferment that doesn’t want outside yeasts or bacteria. You still have to open the lid anyway so some might get in anyway. Using less salt would encourage that to happen. That’s not what we are trying to do here. Using an air lock is very useful in this case.

This recipe is built upon the idea that any time you use shio koji as a marinade for fish or meat or vegetables, the amount you use should never be greater than 5% to 10% of the weight of what you are putting it on. Use 10% only if you are keeping the shio koji on for a very short time (less than a half an hour, maybe just five minutes) or using very large chunks of food you intend to wipe off and then slice or cut up.

Adding more shio koji will not address the fact that what you are adding it to has to be properly prepared.

Water works, but other liquids can also work well. In fact, you can skip the salt and water and just use soy sauce or tamari, but we prefer just to make those things available aat the table as condiments or dipping sauce. Usibg shoyu – it’s called shoyu koji then – tends to turn foods darker with little taste benefit. Use a little miso instead.

If koji is involved, temperature is always a variable that must be taken into account. The mixture is usually let to sit, loosely covered but still covered, at room temp (65F to 78F) for anywhere from one to two weeks.

If it’s 85F, it might take 5 days. If it’s 110F, it should take 48 hours. In that case you should stir every 6 to 8 hours. Again, at this salt amount that should not be a problem.

Shio koji must be stirred with a clean utensil every day until you determine it is done. The idea is to let the carbon dioxide (gas) that naturally occurs during the process escape. Keep it in a dark area. Using an air lock also saves a lot of hassle.

You can taste it as it develops – with a clean utensil – to see if you like what it tastes like. It should not taste sour, or off, or smell strange or like nail polish.

When the mixture starts to look a littler thicker, or a clearer liquid appears soon after stirring at the top of the mixture it is done (assuming it was a white looking mixture to begin with). It should taste both sweet and savory. Refrigerate it.

The enzymes will stay alive but just slow down. Remove some from the refrigerator before using if you like, preventing any bacteria or yeasts getting into it and turning it into something else.

You can start using your shio koji, as is, or blended or sieved to a finer paste. If you properly massaged the mixture and used 140F water it probably will have dissolved already anyway.

You can put your koji in the fridge to mature for up to a month before using it. It will last for years if you don’t know how many things you can do with it. But again, it hard to come up with a reason not to use it in any dish.

Bay onions aged in shio koji with shoyu (soy sauce)

Shio Koji at your Service

You can use shio-koji in a pre-soak of rice or oats or millet for a congee or porridge, pickles vegetables with it, marinate meat or fish with it, bake with it, make salad dressings with it, season foods with it, and more.

Cutting or pre-cooking, or even pre-salting (especially with pickles) the thing you are putting the shio koji on is often done. But certain fresh things don’t require it.

Shio koji is salty. And if your koji is worth it’s weight in enzymes it can really penetrate deeply into whatever you put it on. Quickly. That means that surface area and density matter.

A 1/4 inch piece of fish will be pretty much cooked in 4 hours, as will shrimp. Maybe just five minutes?

Shio koji is the best thing to happen to ceviche, ever. Use it instead of salt with onions, garlic, citrus and other flavorings.

People that use shio koji to make quick pickles (under 24 hours in the koji) will often coat big chunks of washed, scrubbed and pricked vegetables with shio koji for up to a day, then slice then once they remove them.

Rinsing shio koji off of your food is not necessary, but we like to, because then we can dress ours with another tasty dressing and add even another layer of flavor.

Sometimes we take our shio koji marinated eggplant or string beans and fry them in a fritter batter. Too much salt when frying something tends to create greasy, heavy foods so we wash them off and often dip them in egg whites (not yolks) then the batter.

If you are defrosting frozen fish like tuna, let the frozen fish sit in a room temperature water bath with some shio koji (1 Tablespoon per cup of water) for a few minutes to remove ice crystals and smell. Gently pat the fish very dry and wrap it tightly before refrigerating it. That will ensure that all the juices don’t run out of your fish.

Shio koji recipes, including a novel idea for a pickling bed, and making amasake instead of shio koji in the next post.

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